INTERVIEW: A Great Big World talks new music, both for the band and the musical!

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The moment “Say Something” hit the airwaves and that incredibly powerful video came out, the world fell in love with A Great Big World. The songwriting duo, Ian Axel and Chad King, have been writing together since they met at NYU where Ian actively pursued Chad as a creative partner. “…I just zeroed in on him. I just felt connected. It was like he’s the one,” Ian said in our interview.
Going into this sit down with the guys Tuesday night before their show in Boston, I wasn’t expecting the clear chemistry between this duo. They are clearly so in sync with each other. I even asked the kiss of death question interview wise when I asked how they met because it was something that was hard to find but the duo seemed to reminisce with it. Chad even mentioning that he didn’t know Ian felt that way about him the moment he saw him perform the material he had been working on. Read our interview below for a peak into this incredibly talented duo and keep your eyes peeled for new music and that magical musical they’ve been working on!

It’s been just about a year since the last time the band was in Boston. How long has this “Evening With…” tour been in the plans for a Great Big World?
Ian: It’s been in the plans since the end of last year. I mean basically we looked at our schedule, we’re working on our broadway musical while we’re also writing for our next record, and we were like well what’s the next time we’re going to tour? And we wanted to make sure we got out there, even if it was a small little tour, to say thank you to our fans and really hit the cities that we had been playing for the longest. So Boston is one of them. Kind of do it differently too. It’s an acoustic tour so it’s the way we used to perform back in the day when we first started traveling around. Just myself, Chad and the piano. It’s just a thank you to the fans for supporting us. A lot of people out here have seen us like a dozen times. Since the very beginning.

And it must be a great opportunity for them to be in this intimate, seated show.
Ian: Yeah! So we’re only doing ten shows and this is our fourth but they’ve been really special shows. Just a different energy.
Chad: It’s a different connection. It’s so different.
Ian: We feel more connected to them.
Chad: And more exposed.
Ian: Yeah and I think because it’s just us two, there’s a lot more room for error and spontaneity and they get to kind of know us a little bit more. This also is looser and we get to tell stories that we don’t usually tell. It seems more personal.

And you guys have been writing together for so long as a writing duo. Be it for this project, for the musical. I know the latter has been a long time project for the two of you. How do you think it changes when it comes to writing for the musical versus A Great Big World? When you start writing a song, can you feel it’s going to be A Great Big World song as opposed to a musical song?
Chad: We sort of have to divide it. So right now, we’re strictly focused on A Great Big World because it’s really difficult to go back and forth. One day, the musical. One day, A Great Big World. But the writing I would say is really different.
Ian : Because we’re writing for the story and the lyrics have to move the story forward and we’re collaborating with the book writer and so we’re in constant communication with him. Whenever we write the songs for the show.It’s different. We can write a song about a broad topic for A Great Big World but then for the musical, it needs to be really specific and character driven.

Then I couldn’t find really the story of the meeting of the two of you. You are obviously an established band. Was it something where you were friends growing up or you went to school together. How did this pairing come to be?
Chad: We met at NYU in music publishing class, ironically. Ian knew I did music and was like I want you to hear me play piano.
Ian: I was looking for someone to write songs with because I had transferred into the school and it can be a lonely place to transfer into. And New York is such a big city and I didn’t have any friends. So when I met Chad, I just zeroed in on him. I just felt connected. It was like he’s the one. He was so resistant to being my friend because he already had friends.
He didn’t need any extra friends.
Chad: Yeah I was who’s this weirdo?
Ian: I would call him and be like ‘Yo when are we going to hang out’? Because he only lived two blocks away from me.
Chad: But then eventually he found me in a practice room one day and dragged me to his practice room. I heard him play and I freaked out. It was then that I was like, okay we should be friends. There was something so magical about what he was playing and what he was singing that I had never heard before.
Ian: But no one’s ever reacted that way to the stuff that I was working on. Also, when I heard him play the songs he had been working on, I had never heard someone else do that. And I was so drawn to it so we just started writing together. It was just so natural.
Chad: I didn’t know you felt that way.
Ian: Yeah!
Chad: Nice.
Ian: How we did start writing together? I don’t even remember. Did we just start writing? I think it was just natural. That’s how I make friends, I pressure them and play piano.

Then you talked about how you’re focusing on the third album with the last one being about a year and a half ago in 2015. For that process, is it something where you’re fully in that mode right now, something that’s a little bit on the horizon? Where are you in the process for the third record?
Ian: We’re pretty much just starting to dive in. So after this tour, first week of April, we’re going to be really getting in there. Because we have to divide our time between the musical and A Great Big World, we’re toying with the idea of releasing batches of songs instead of an album. So potentially putting out an EP at some point this year then another EP later in the winter to kind of divide it up.
Chad: Also, to be releasing songs constantly.
Ian: Yeah, instead of waiting years to put out an album. I still care about albums but not a lot of people are seeming to care about albums. It’s a really song-driven thing and as long as you have content and keep putting stuff out, I think a steady stream of music is kind of the way to go for us.

Then obviously from what I get the sense of, you’re on a great label with Epic, you’ve had some great success over these years. Maybe something you wish you had avoided if anything and maybe something you wish you had done.
Chad: It all got us here so it’s hard to say.
Ian: It’s hard. I mean I think the biggest challenge has been balancing the musical with the band and I know that after the height of “Say Something”, instead of going back to do another record immediately, we dove into the musical. But we also needed to. If we were any other band, we would have just written more songs but also the musical needed attention because we had been away from it for a while. It’s just really challenging. We always look back and are like should we have done that. So I think we’re always trying to find the balance between the musical and the band. Because they’re both full time jobs. I think moving forward, I think one of the things that we’re learning is that maybe we don’t need to wait to do the album. Maybe just write a few songs and put them out and our label seems open to that idea.
I think also we’re going to really start exploring ourselves as independent units of A Great Big World. Because I think what makes us a unique band is that Chad and I are so different and we’re different artists individually. So I think we’re exploring that when we’re writing this next batch of songs and I think that the goal is to have Chad really come out on his songs and myself really to come out on my songs. Then we come together and kind of meet in the middle.
Chad: Right, so it’s clear that this is a duo.
Ian: And that was the vision when we formed the band but we haven’t really fully realized that vision yet.
So that something you always wanted to do?
Chad: Yeah and then “Say Something” took off and it was just Ian.
Ian: Not only was it just me but it was me with Christina Aguilera.
Like when fans are watching the video , saying who’s that guy sitting on the piano?
Chad: Yeah like who’s that guy?

Then maybe to end it off, like you said, this is a very special very limited run. Then the musical I know that’s something you have been working on for several years this passion project. Maybe what is the focus for 2017, the rest of it? We’re still so early. Is it to get that record out, finish up this musical, what is the plan?
Ian: The goal for us is to put out a batch of songs for A Great Big World. We don’t know how large yet and also, we have revisions to do for our musical. Because we did a workshop last December so the goal is to rewrite the show to get it to another workshop at the end of the year. So do another workshop for the musical and release these songs for A Great Big World and somehow support those songs. I think that will take us to December if we do that right. Then after that, switch back into A Great Big World mode. Write and record the next batch of songs.
Chad: Then go back to the musical.
Ian: Still trying to figure out how we’re touring in there. It’s an original musical so it takes a really long time. Because it’s an original story, the story is developing and also we’re new musical writers so we’ve never done this before. Our book writer has actually never written a musical either.
Chad: That’s what really attracted us to this project was that none of us have done this before.
Ian: But I think we’re okay in terms of time. We hear that musicals usually can take six, seven, eight years to actually make it happen. So we’re four and a half in. Also some of the musical songs are some of our favorite songs that we’ve ever written and it’s over an hour of music there that we think is some of our best. And no one’s ever heard it. So we have to see it though, we’re just so passionate about it. There’s already a body of work. It’s very much A Great Big World, it’s music that we are going to sing too as a band. We want to put out our own version of the musical once it’s done. Kind of like what Sara Bareilles is doing (“Waitress”).

About Author


Colleen has been writing about music since 2009. Interviewing bands since the glory days of Warped and has continued to do so for now over fourteen years. As well as doing freelance for other publications, the love for everything rock continues today.